“The Ghost Soldiers”
. . . after seven months in the bush I realized that those high, civilized trappings had somehow been crushed under the weight of the simple
daily realities. I'd turned mean inside.
When, in “The Ghost Soldiers,” O’Brien tries to exact revenge on Bobby
Jorgensen for his failure to
treat him competently, he concedes that he is acting irrationally. Though it is difficult for O’Brien to
admit, after a certain amount of time in Vietnam he realizes that he is capable of evil. The only way
for him to deal with hurt is to hurt back. The terms O’Brien uses juxtapose his previous life—one of
intellectualism and striving for success through studying—with his life in the jungle, where accolades
like Phi Beta Kappa have no relevance. The foreign, academic terms “Phi Beta Kappa” and “summa
cum laude” contrast starkly with the simple, blunt descriptions of life in the “bush,” just as the civility
of his college years contrasts starkly with his newfound meanness.
O’Brien recalls that he was shot twice—the first time, images from Gene Autry movies race through
his head, and he ends up on the lap of Rat Kiley, the medic. During and after his treatment, O’Brien
appreciates Kiley’s skill, courage, and ease. When O’Brien returns from his recovery almost a month
later, Kiley has been wounded and shipped off and a new medic named Bobby Jorgenson
his place. When O’Brien is shot the second time, Jorgenson is incapable of treating his shock, and the
result is a harrowing, painful experience for O’Brien.
The realization that he was near death for no good reason leaves O’Brien seething—he vows to exact
revenge on the frightened, incompetent Jorgenson. He spends more time in the hospital and then is
transferred to the battalion supply section, a far more comfortable and less dangerous assignment.
Meanwhile, his backside hurts and he is forced to sleep on his stomach and smear antibacterial
ointment on himself several times a day. During the miserable nights, he renews his vow to make
When the company comes for a routine operation to where O’Brien is recovering, O’Brien meets the
helicopters. He listens to stories from his friends—especially one about a soldier who decided to go
for a swim and ended up with a disease that was later treated by Jorgenson—but he is most concerned
with finding Jorgenson. Mitchell
Sanders encourages O’Brien to leave Jorgenson alone, saying that he
is one of the Alpha Company now and implying that O’Brien is no longer a member of the company.
The next morning, O’Brien runs into Jorgenson, who apologizes for his inept treatment of O’Brien,
saying that he was scared and that since O’Brien was shot, he has felt a great deal of remorse. O’Brien
begins resenting Jorgenson for making him feel guilty.
O’Brien attempts to enlist his friends in his plans for revenge, but the only one who will concede to